As you all know from an earlier post that I made, I am a recently converted Anabaptist. I still do not have a church yet, but I am searching. For now, I see myself as an Anabaptist seeker or an “Anarcho-Anabaptist”. Despite my lack of a specific Anabaptist tradition, there is still the larger tradition of Anabaptism that I most certainly identify with. Of course, there is a lot of diversity within that tradition — liberals, conservatives, radicals, and even fundamentalists. All of the branches of Christianity seem to be also present in Anabaptist Christianity. Even with all these different shades of interpretation, there are some common principles that make one an Anabaptist.
Two examples of Anabaptist principles were shared by Kurt Willems for Patheos, and I wanted to share them here as well. I think that these two lists make a perfect summary of Anabaptist Christianity, and can help those who find this site understand our stance. In fact, there was recently a comment on this site that said the Young Anabaptist Radicals was “anti-Anabaptist”. It was a very strange comment, and seemed to limit Anabaptism to a very small category of beliefs. So, sharing these principles may help people understand just how broad the tradition we claim is, while also giving them an introduction to it.
1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.
2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.
3. Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalised Jesus, and has left the churches ill-equipped for mission in a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.
4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.
5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship. As we eat together, sharing bread and wine, we sustain hope as we seek God’s kingdom together. We are committed to nurturing and developing such churches, in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender and baptism is for believers.
6. Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation, and working for justice.
7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations.
1. A high view of the Bible.
While not worshipping the Bible itself, for that would be bibliolatry, Anabaptists accept “the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God, and through the Holy Spirit…the infallible guide to lead men to faith in Christ and to guide them in the life of Christian discipleship.” Anabaptists insist that Christians must always be guided by the Word, which is to be collectively discerned, and by the Spirit.
2. Emphasis on the New Testament.
Since Christ is God’s supreme revelation, Anabaptists make a clear functional distinction between the equally inspired Old and New Testaments. We see an old and a new covenant. We read the Old from the perspective of the New and see the New as the fulfillment of the Old. Where the two differ, the New prevails, and thus Anabaptist ethics are derived primarily from the New Testament.
3. Emphasis on Jesus as central to all else.
Anabaptists derive their Christology directly from the Word and emphasize a deep commitment to take Jesus seriously in all of life. Such a view runs counter to notions that the commands of Jesus are too difficult for ordinary believers or that Jesus’ significance lies almost entirely in providing heavenly salvation. Rather, salvation of the soul is part of a larger transformation.
4. The necessity of a believers’ church.
Anabaptists believe that Christian conversion, while not necessarily sudden and traumatic, always involves a conscious decision. “Unless a person is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Believing that an infant can have no conscious, intelligent faith in Christ, Anabaptists baptize only those who have come to a personal, living faith. Voluntary baptism, together with a commitment to walk in the full newness of life and to strive for purity in the church, constitutes the basis of church membership.
5. The importance of discipleship.
Becoming a Christian involves not only belief in Christ but also discipleship. Faith is expressed in holy living. In Christ, salvation and ethics come together. Not only are we to be saved through Christ, but we are also to follow him daily in obedient living. Thus, for example, Anabaptists from the beginning renounced the oath. They determined to speak truth. “For them there could be no gradations of truth-telling.” Anabaptists continue to teach that salvation makes us followers of Jesus Christ and that he is the model for the way we are to live.
6. Insistence on a church without classes or divisions.
The church, the body of Christ, has only one head. While acknowledging functional diversity, Anabaptist believers set aside all racial, ethnic, class and sex distinctions because these are subsumed in the unity and equality of the body.
7. Belief in the church as a covenant community.
Corporate worship, mutual aid, fellowship and mutual accountability characterize this community. An individualistic or self centered Anabaptism is a contradiction in terms.
8. Separation from the world.
The community of the transformed belongs to the kingdom of God. It functions in the world but is radically separate from the world. The faithful pilgrim church sees the sinful world as an alien environment with thoroughly different ethics and goals. This principle includes separation of church and state. Therefore, Anabaptists reject all forms of civil religion, be it the traditional corpus Christianum or more recently developed forms of Christian nationalism.
9. The church as a visible counterculture.
As a united fellowship of believers every Anabaptist congregation models an alternate community. Such a covenant community functions as an authentic counterculture.
10. Belief that the gospel includes a commitment to the way of peace modelled by the Prince of Peace.
Here Anabaptists differ from many other Christians. Anabaptists believe that the peace position is not optional, not marginal, and not related mainly to the military. On the basis of Scripture, Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships. We see peace and reconciliation — the way of love — as being at the heart of the Christian gospel. God gave his followers this ethic not as a point to ponder, but as a command to obey. It was costly for Jesus and it may also be costly for his followers. The way of peace is a way of life.
11. Commitment to servanthood.
Just as Christ came to be a servant to all, so Christians should also serve one another and others in the name of Christ. Thus, separation from a sinful world is balanced by a witness of practical assistance to a needy and hurting society.
12. Insistence on the church as a missionary church.
Anabaptists believe that Christ has commissioned the church to go into all the world and all of society and to make disciples of all people, baptizing them and teaching them to observe his commandments. The evangelistic imperative is given to all believers. These principles constitute the essence of Anabaptism. While each emphasis can be found elsewhere, the combination of all twelve constitutes the uniqueness of Anabaptism.
The Protestant Reformation had not gone far enough. The early Anabaptists, while diverse and far from perfect, committed themselves to nothing less than the restoration of the New Testament church. We, their heirs, have the privilege of reemphasizing these twelve principles, in word and deed, here and now.